The ‘Rhythm Never Stops’ in the Caribbean, as the Region Looks Ahead

by Jessica Montevago
The ‘Rhythm Never Stops’ in the Caribbean, as the Region Looks Ahead

The annual Caribbean Week event is organized and hosted by CTO member destinations.

Channeling the region’s positive vibes, the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (CTO) new marketing campaign, “Rhythm Never Stops,” kicks off at the end of the month.

In partnership with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), and other private sector partners, the regional campaign aims to maintain and grow market share, while communicating that it is as vibrant and thriving as ever before. The second phase of the digital and social campaign will roll out mid-fall/early winter.

“The sense of enthusiasm and optimism on display this week were the result of the level of confidence in the Caribbean tourism industry, despite a very difficult post-tourism period,” said CTO Chairman and Bahamas Tourism Minister Dinosio D’Aguilar, speaking last week at a media conference during Caribbean Week, an event organized and hosted by member destinations.

The budget is about $400,000, according to Hugh Riley, the CTO's secretary general. So far, St. Lucia, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago, Martinique and Jamaica are participating, although the organization hopes the list will grow.

D’Aguilar noted, “Our competitors are light years ahead of us … Brand USA has an annual budget of $164 million; Australia’s budget is $122 million; Canada’s is $75 million.”

In regards to the ongoing recovery from devastating hurricanes, officials said the push in educating consumers on the Caribbean’s geography – and the small percentage that was directly impacted, in comparison – has caught on.

In a survey with TravelZoo, U.S. consumers polled were asked in October if the Caribbean would be open to accommodate guests in the peak winter season – only 26 percent said yes. When asked again in January, 71 percent responded yes.

“When there’s a blizzard in New York, people are laying on the beach in Miami,” said Frank Comito, CHTA's CEO and general director. “This perception of geography, we’ve got to continue to get that message out.”

The other welcomed sign, D’Aguilar said, is that more people are purchasing travel insurance, rather than not booking or canceling their trips altogether.

The occupancy rate, regionwide, for the first quarter of 2018 was 71 percent, down 1.8 percent from the previous year. “We’ve been impacted, but not as severely as we thought,” Comito said.

Arrivals took a hit in the last quarter, and the slowdown continued in the first quarter of this year, per the CTO. The region received 8.2 million international tourists’ visits during this period, about half a million fewer than the same period in 2017, about a 6.2 percent decline.

While some countries that were unaffected by the hurricanes saw double-digit growth, including Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Grenada, the Bahamas had a particularly strong year. The country saw 18 percent growth in stopover visitors in the first quarter of 2018, the fastest rate of growth in the region, D’Aguilar announced, thanks to new airlift from carriers like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, and soon to be Delta, as well as the long-awaited opening of the 2,300-room Baha Mar complex.

“More now than ever, we need the impact of a successful marketing campaign,” D’Aguilar said.

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